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South Valley Journal

Bear-O Care helps families with multiples severe disabilities

Aug 30, 2017 04:25PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Courtney “Coco,” 21 with her handmade “Teddy” Bear-O Care. The bears were handmade by Mary-Lou McNiece of South Valley Rotary Club. (Jessica Parcell/City Journals)

By Jessica Parcell | [email protected]

There are more than 200,000 families —according to—with disabilities in the state of Utah, many of which — because of the severity of their condition and the amount of care they need — are not able to receive the full benefits of the government sponsored programs, like Medicaid, laid out to help them.

That is where Bear-O Care stepped in. The nonprofit organization aims to fill the gap in the system where these families are not able to receive the care and support that they need.

Site manager Trudi O’Brien said that the organization is a day program for adults with multiple disabilities, and it also offers respite care for children with multiple disabilities.

“We’re unique, because we concentrate on what they come out of school with,” O’Brien said, “So, normally our kids would have IEPs; they come to us with goals that they’ve been working on in school. We’ll continue those goals.”

The client’s IEP—Individualized Education Plan—is what O’Brien explained helps the person communicate with their caretakers and those around them.

O’Brien said communication is important to the founders, Mike and Ruth Braga, of the nonprofit. For O’Brien, since communication is what they work so hard on in school, it is difficult seeing an individual lose that ability when they graduate, because others aren’t sure how to communicate with them.

Working as a communication intervener for Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, O’Brien said she remembers a client she went to see after she graduated and was devastated to find that her communication method had been thrown out.

“They didn’t know it wasn’t just a bucket of junk; it was the way she was talking,” O’Brien said, “She was angry and hurt, and she had not control over her life.”

Most of the clients are seen by the school district until they’re 21, at which point they graduate out of the system. She said that while other day programs may be good, they do not focus on the medically fragile, including individuals with seizure disorders, gastrostomy tubes, and tracheas and suctioning needs.

With a son of their own with Charge Syndrome — a disorder that left the child both blind and deaf — the lack of resources led the founders to open Bear-O Care to a community of families who desperately needed it.

She said working with these individuals has been a blessing to her, and because of it she’s become more grateful for the things she has and the things people do for her.

Frank McNiece, who has been part of the South Valley Rotary Club for the past 36 years, said they are trying to expand organizations like this to areas out of Utah.

“It started here, and it’s the only place where it’s being done,” McNiece said.

McNiece and his wife, Mary-Lou, have been generous donors to the Bear-O Care nonprofit. Mary-Lou hand-sewed and gifted a “Teddy” Bear-O Care to each of the patients currently enrolled at BOC.

As a thank you, BOC presented the McNieces and a few other Rotarians with plaques for their generous donations. Frank said they are trying to raise money and awareness so they can spread this service to other locations.

“They’ve got people from other communities calling in saying, ‘When are you going to be available in our community?’” Frank said. “And they can’t do it because of budgetary considerations.”

Now, he said that they are using sponsors and asking people to donate, either through the South Valley Rotary Club website or BOC website: